Jay Gatsby as the Perfect Example of the American Dream in The Great Gatsby Novel

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There is a term that we hear often, but don’t often stop to think what it actually means. You’ve most likely heard it at some point in your life, or even used it as an expression yourself. That term is the American Dream. What exactly is the American Dream? The American Dream is the belief that anyone, regardless of where they were born or what class they were born into, can attain their own version of success in a society where upward mobility is made possible for everyone. You must take risks, sacrifice, and work hard in order to achieve the full American Dream. James Truslow Adams defined the American Dream as “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement”. In The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby is the perfect example of the American Dream. He was just a poor solider who had nothing, but achieved great wealth, societal respect, and admiration, living life in the Jazz Age like it was just one big party. And it was. Gatsby had achieved the American Dream. He had come from nothing, but he had changed his fate and found greatness. But did that wealth bring him true happiness, and eventually give him all that he desired? Did he really achieve the American Dream, or was it all just a false sense of perfection and grandeur? Was the pretty world that Gatsby had created for himself a dream, or was it a cage, a bright and melodious nightmare?

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The title of this novel is very intriguing. It right away tells us that Gatsby, whoever the chap may be, is ‘great’. Then we have the rest of the book to decide for ourselves whether or not Gatsby is a great man. But what makes a person great? Is it their accomplishments, their societal status, or how they have lived their life? If this is all it takes to be great, then yes, maybe Jay Gatsby is deserving of the title ‘great’. He certainly had accomplished much in his life, accumulating great wealth, popularity, and a mysterious reputation over just a few years. He had also served in the military during World War I, and what could be more honourable or greater than serving your country? As for his status in society, everyone knew who Jay Gatsby was. His extravagant, expensive, and lavish parties attract people from all over New York, all who come with a sense of wonder and curiosity about the mysterious Great Gatsby.

So, who is Gatsby? James Gatz was born in North Dakota, the son of poor farmers. Though he was borne into a family with nothing to their name, he was full of ambition and determination. He wanted to be successful, so when he left his family at an early age, he changed his name from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby. He was obsessed with the life of the wealthy, and began to learn about their ways when he got a job on a rich man’s yacht after saving his life in a terrible storm. The man, Dan Cody, intends to leave his fortune to Gatsby after his death, but his ex-wife takes it instead, leaving Gatsby with high-society manners and knowledge of the wealthy, but no wealth. When he turned 18, he enlisted in the military just in time for World War I. Before he was transferred to Europe, he met Daisy in Louisville. She was a beautiful, charming, and refreshing young woman that he quickly fell in love with. One problem: she was very rich. She assumed that he was rich too, judging from the way he spoke and acted. In the uniform, no one would be able to tell the difference. Later that summer he left for Europe, and Daisy promised that she would wait for him. He returned to America five months after the war, only to find that Daisy had just married. He was determined to show her that he was everything he’d promised years ago, and thought that if he became wealthy, like she believed he was, that he could win her back. So he did what any sensible person desiring riches would do: he became a criminal. With the help of shady businessman Meyer Wolfshiem, in just three years Gatsby acquired a huge sum of money. With this money he bought a lavish mansion in the fictitious ‘West Egg’, and began throwing extravagant parties in hope of building a reputation, all in the hopes of meeting Daisy again. And his plan works. With the help of Nick Carraway and Jordan Baker, Gatsby is together with Daisy again. No one suspects that the grand life Gatsby has is fake, or that he’s just a poor boy from North Dakota. But a person can’t maintain such a lie forever, and if it’s one thing that all relationship movies have taught us it is that lying is always the best option.

At some point in our lives we all ask ourselves what is the meaning of life, or wonder if our lives have any meaning. No one wants to live a fake life. A fake life has no meaning, it has no substance. Gatsby, with ambition and determination, created the life he wanted for himself, but failed to create his perfect life in a honest way, so he continued to lie about who he was and about his past. Though his life seemed like the epitome of success and happiness, it was all fake. The mansion, the cars, the parties, and the fancy clothes were all real, but everything that he claimed to be wasn’t real. So was the ‘Great’ Gatsby’s life a lie? Did his life have any meaning? We’ve probably all wished that we were someone else at some point, but Gatsby took it a step further when he actually decided to become someone else. He changed his name, participated in a ‘get rich quick’ scheme, and promptly reinvented himself. But maybe a little too much. He was no longer James Gatz; he was a totally different person. His persona changed from a poor but polite boy to a wealthy, charming, and all-American man who called everyone “old sport”. Gatsby assumed that no one would like him for who he truly was, so he decided to become someone that everyone would like. He thought that he would finally be content if he kept up the charade of Jay Gatsby, the distinguished and wealthy gentleman with old money and an older legacy. But he was living a lie, and he would have eventually self-destructed if the bullet hadn’t gotten to him first.

Yellow is a reoccurring theme throughout the novel. It is the most common colour that appears in the story, from a yellow car to a yellow tie to even yellow spectacles. Daisy is described as “golden”, which symbolizes luxury and greed. It also represents destruction and death, as the yellow car speeding away into the night is the only thing witnesses saw after Myrtle was struck and killed. The novel is filled with bright colours and glittering light, and Fitzgerald sprinkled the sunny colour yellow throughout his book very carefully. Gold (or yellow), represents achievement, luxury, societal status, and wealth, especially old wealth. This is what Gatsby is trying to achieve, what he is trying to convince everyone that he has. He doesn’t want anyone to know that his money is tainted and new, but rather is convincing people that he comes from an old family with an old legacy. Daisy is also described as a “golden woman” whose voice is “full of money”, and throughout the book she is associated with wealth and privilege. She represents wealth, beauty, carelessness, and ultimately; perfection. She holds the sophistication, grace, and aristocracy that Gatsby longed for when he was young in North Dakota, and those were the ideals that initially attracted him to her. So did he really want her, or did he just want her life? Did he love her, or did he love the idea of her? The scene where they reunite shows the shallowness of their personalities. Gatsby is eager to show off his mansion and riches to Daisy, and she doesn’t hide her awe and jealously at the magnitude and quality of his possessions. He was trying to show her that he was just like her; wealthy, popular, and happy.

Gatsby sees Daisy as an angel on earth, when in reality she is just a vain, shallow, selfish, and careless woman. She was perfect in his eyes, and he wanted to be perfect like her. He thought that if he could gather enough wealth, convince everyone that his fake persona was real, and get Daisy to realize that she had only ever loved him, then his life would finally be complete. He would finally have the perfect life, the life he always dreamed of. He would have finally achieved the American Dream. Started from nothing, he gained everything. But that perfect life fell apart much too quickly. It was fragile and superficial, not built to last. Gatsby wasn’t a bad person; he was just naive and innocent, believing that all his dreams would come true, when in truth his life had just become like Daisy’s: empty and hopeless. Daisy thought she had everything: love, wealth, and happiness, which is what the American Dream is all about. That’s all Gatsby wanted too, but in the end it all fell apart. His one true love abandoned him, he wasn’t happy, and all the riches in the world couldn’t have prevented George Wilson from shooting Gatsby.

So is it possible to recreate the past? Is it realistic to want to go back to ‘the good old days’ instead of appreciating and enjoying where you are in the present? Gatsby was enamoured by the past, and was convinced that his life would be perfect once he had everything back as it was five years ago. But the past can’t be erased, and you can’t undo everything to get back to where you started. He didn’t want to just recreate the past; he wanted to become the person he had been five years ago when he had first met Daisy. Nick Carraway sensibly tells Gatsby that he cannot recreate the past, to which Gatsby replies: “Can’t repeat the past?…Why of course you can!” Gatsby is obsessed with trying to get things back to how they were; he wanted Daisy to not only say that she never loved Tom, but to also believe it herself whole heartedly. Gatsby wasn’t in love with Daisy, but rather in love with the idea of Daisy, and all that he thought she represented. He didn’t love her for who she was, but was in love with the idea of her and all that she represented. He not only wanted Daisy back , but also who he was five years earlier, back when everything was fresh and new and innocent. He wanted to recreate the past instead of trying to create a new and better future for himself.

What was F. Scott Fitzgerald trying to prove with The Great Gatsby? To put it simply, the Great Gatsby is meant to show that those who pursue the American Dream will never be satisfied, or find true happiness. The American Dream entails always striving for something better, something more than we already have. This idea is embodied in Gatsby, who always wanted more than he has and is desperate to achieve something that is simply impossible. This 1925 novel represents the heyday of the Roaring 20s, and in its more dismal elements it foreshadows the dark times that would soon follow. Gatsby, no matter the amount of his riches, could not find happiness within them. His ideal, perfect life turned out to be sad, lonely, and empty. There are many things that you can take away from this story, but one of the most important ideas is the fact that the next big thing you desire will not satisfy you. “The Great Gatsby” is a very careless novel. Everyone wishes that they didn’t have a care in the world, but “The Great Gatsby” shows the true horror of being careless. It’s empty, it’s disappointing, and it’s simply pointless. 

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